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What Do You Want From a RPG Convention?

Today I offer no advice, but instead I seek to hear from others.

In the near future I plan on organizing a local mini-convention for RPG fans. Nothing against board, card, video, or war games, but I want to focus on RPGs exclusively. The plan is to hold this event at my local library where I can reserve presentation space for free as long as the event is open to the public. I am not interested in running a for-profit event, and I want to promote RPGs within my community, so this works out fine for my purposes.

The goal is to have 6 tables of 6 players each (with GMs that is 42 people total) with one round of 4 hour events in the morning, and a second round of 4 hour events in the afternoon. There may be a 1 hour seminar on RPGs given between the morning and afternoon events. There will be no vendors on site, but local retailers will be asked to provide handouts or coupons to distribute amongst attendees.

Given the above details, what would you want to see at such a convention? What criteria would you have for those interested in GMing an event? How would you promote such an event? Most important of all is what RPGs would you want to play?

Your suggestions are greatly appreciated, and I thank you in advance for sharing them with me. Following the event I will write an article on the experience. I will be sure to mention which tips helped me the most.


21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "What Do You Want From a RPG Convention?"

#1 Comment By BukaHobbit On September 9, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

Simple is the key, especially in the morning event. Some of these folks might never have even heard of RPGs before and throwing them in the deep end will probably sour them on the experience. Use a simple set of rules with pre-generated character (including obvious character hooks) to get the action started quickly and the players something to hang their imaginations on. The most common issue I hear from beginning gamers is “I don’t know what to do”. If you provide pre-generated characters with very easy to understand motivations the new players will probably be much more prone to experience the immersion that hooks folks on RPGs for years.

#2 Comment By veritas On September 9, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

I’d like to see more of a focus on games besides D&D. I love D&D, and have been playing since I was very young with my dad DMing. But there’s many other great RPGs that people should have a chance to play – Mouse Guard, Geist (my favorite of White Wolf’s current offerings), etc.

I’d also suggest something that’s always fun in a convention – have a convention-wide game (“You’re all adventurers – whoever defeats the most ‘bosses’ wins” or such) and at the end of the convention, tally points, figure out who defeated the boss, etc, and announce the winner. A little competition gives people something to think about or do while waiting for the next event that interests them, and encourages them to work with/meet other people.

#3 Comment By Protohacker On September 9, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

BukaHobbit has a good idea there. One of those games could be a beginner’s game. No real goal other than to teach people how to play RPGs. System doesn’t matter, although to avoid overwhelming rookies, you probably want to stay with something simplistic.

So, the game would run something like this. Explain how characters perform tasks. Then have them search a room, crew a ship, etc. Explain the combat system, then have them fight some mooks, etc.

Handouts are good. When I run con games, I bring handouts for the players as well as pre-gens. My handouts are a very simplified version of the rules and combat actions. Don’t be afraid to discard anything that would be too complicated. My rules sheet is one page and has two charts–one is a short list of attack actions and one is a short list of defense actions (key word here is “short”; players don’t want to spend their time reading).

Also, when you do your pre-gens, add a paragraph description of the character. I also have a short line or two under that labeled “character notes“. These give the new players hints as to how to run the characters. For example, in one of my games, the Merchant’s character sheet has the note “If there is something youโ€™d like to do, but donโ€™t have the right skill for it, you can attempt to influence someone else to do the action for you.” These notes not only tell the player what his/her character can do, they also give the new player an excuse to interact with everyone else at the table (something I try to encourage).

#4 Comment By Protohacker On September 9, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

Sorry, folks, was testing some stuff. Ignore the first two posts.

#5 Comment By Berin Kinsman On September 9, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

I play at one of these every month: the Southern Arizona Gamers Association runs the Tucson RPG Guild meetup on the first Saturday of every month. Thee are normally 40-50 people in attendance.

Suggestions I’d make:

1. Start a meetup group (either at meetup.com, google groups, yahoo groups, etc) so players/GMs can communicate with each other ahead of time. It’s a free, easy way to announce what’s being run and to allow players to sign up.

2. Overbook GMs. If you want to have 6 games going, make sure you have 8 or 9 GMs ready to run, in case a GM gets sick or otherwise bails. Let GMs know that they’re designated alternates, so they’re not upset id they don’t get to run.

3. Try to get prize support from FLGS’s in return for publicity. You pimp their store at the event, they’ll pimp your event and give you stuff to give away. Store gift certificates work well for this.

4. Consider the food situation. If there’s not food on-sitemake sure it’s close by. If you have breaks between sessions, remember that gamers are social and will spend more time sitting in the fast food join talking than eating, and may wander back late.

4a. I’ve been to a few of these things — again, with 40-50 people attending — that were held in peoples’ homes. Two words: pot luck.

5. Ventilation. Small venues like this tend to get crowded and hot. Make sure the place you pick has good a/c and circulation.

6. Reward you GMs. At the very least, give them shout-outs for recognition.

7. Make sure the organizers are identifiable. If a GM needs help, or a noob player wanders in and needs direction, make sure they can figure out who they should be talking to.

8. Name tags. At small events, sticky “hello my name is” tags work like con badges. Handy for remembering the names of these strangers at your table.

9. Consider ending the day with an event everyone can participate in, like a big game of Werewolf or Mafia. A bunch of people will bail, the remainder with be tired, but it can be a good way to wind down.

#6 Comment By Cole On September 9, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

A Library is usually not a good place for this kind of event. Is there a game shop you could use instead?

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On September 9, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

You have an interesting decision to make. It seems like there are two major paths– one, creating a uniform experience, so everyone gets a fair shot at playing something good, even if the odds of something great are less. For something like this, you would run the same event at each table– probably an RPGA module or one of the quickstart adventures from free RPG day.

The more complicated (but better, to me) plan is for each table to offer a different take on roleplaying. In the end, though, it comes down to your GMs. Do you have 6 people? What are they ready and willing to run?

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 9, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

Lots of good ideas here. I am hoping to have a D&D game, but not only D&D games. From what I am hearing since this open to the public having the games laid out by ease-of-play might be really beneficial to what I hope to achieve here.

As for GMs, I have a few friends who are interested. I hope to gather 10 total, with a few running two events. I’d like to have 2 ringers for both the morning and the afternoon slots.

The theme I see emerging from the comments is that the events should be plug-and-play where I can take anyone and put them in a player’s seat and they will be able to enjoy that event. It will take some work, but I believe it can be done.

As for a library not being a good location for such an event that depends on the library. This is a modern building designed to accomodate community events like this one. I don’t foresee this causing problems. I’ve spoken with the librarians and they don’t see it as an issue either. Plus the local game shop is too small for this size of an event.

I was already thinking of simple gifts and buying all of the GMs lunch for participating. I might switch the gifts for FLGS gift certificates instead.

Thanks everyone! Keep those ideas coming!

#9 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 9, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

[1] – Don’t worry about the comments. I’ve deleted the duplicates. As for HTML, seems to work ( ๐Ÿ™‚ ) but only Martin could say for sure if all tags work in the comments.

#10 Comment By ekb On September 9, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

Random crap that I thought of that hasn’t really been mentioned yet:

–Breakfast. One of the things that brings community together is sitting down at table. It’s also a way to get the small talk out of the way and letting the gaming happen “on time.” Besides, some of the best writing/GMing/illustrating/being a better human advice I’ve ever gotten has happened at cons over breakfast. Combine with a FLGS near a pretty decent breakfast spot just down the main street from the library in question, it’d be handy in case someone forgot something.
–A rating system, both for content and for player experience. I heard of an epic-tier D&D4e game at GenCon that I’d like to try to replicate at a con sometime… but that would take some experience with 4e. Another idea I had for a game was to do a “intro to ORE” game, with copious guidance in the system and reasonable omission of some of the more esoteric quirks to the system. One game might be pretty adult themed, another might be saturday morning cartoon. We should be able to accommodate them all… and communicate that to all who might attend.
–Maximize use of space, but with kindness. Overbooking the spaces is a good suggestion, but what happens when you have 2-3 extra GMs and 12-18 extra players show up? Mercifully, there are often study rooms to go along with community rooms – but treading lightly and with kindness is always a good policy. What’s unfortunate is that I’ve seen that saying this explicitly is necessary.
–In addition to giving props to the GMs, doing nice things for the librarians/library staff might be good.
–CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF. AND OTHERS. Leave the place better than you found it (by any standard imaginable).
–If there are games that will be played featuring games not carried by FLGS, let FLGS know that there will be XYZ game at yon Con so that they might be able to order it for their stock. And in turn, if the players had fun with this game they might not have played before they can just head down the street and get it easily and immediately. Immediate gratification is very nice on occasion.
–Volunteers. One person really can’t pull it all together as efficiently as a small team that has a common goal that is all about everyone having fun.
–The Ever-present “Something Different.” A sick part of me wants to do a jeep-form LARP at this event. Lacuna (you make the system as you play) also sounds cool. Trollbabe? Much of 1km1kt’s output? An Iron GM event where it’s BYOC and the GM fudges it together? These all sound worth driving to, if’n I had to drive to it… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Comments on things others have said:
–meetup. meh. I like Google/Yahoo Groups for communicating better. It’s also much less expensive.
–shared contest. Excellent! FTW!
–RPGA involvement. Nifty idea, but it does give a bias towards certain styles of gaming.
–Goodie bags/prizes. Never a bad idea, but it could be detrimental to the “open to the public” aspect if it conflicts with the library’s non-profit language. But that’s easily handled with a friendly phone call to them.
–Running events at FLGS. Could be a good overflow if the overbooking is too successful. Mercifully the FLGS in question is run by remarkably cool folks, but still working it out with their schedule wouldn’t hurt.

#11 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 9, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

I’m sorry if I step on toes, but RPGA events turn out the same RPGA players over and over. I’d avoid that unless it’s what you’re looking for. D&D is fine; RPGA is going to turn into another group of regulars.

Pre-con briefing for the GMs. Oh, how I wish Gen Con had done this… Perhaps with free breakfast? (In Texas, the Breakfast Taco is a medium of exchange, a gift, an apology, a reward, etc.)

Promote the shit out of it. Try to get non-gamers to give it a try as much as possible. And use a game like FUDGE for them.

Offer a variety of games. Find out who can GM what, and start from there. Contact the publishers to see if they’ll help out. Contact the FLGSs as well.

I think a seminar as a break in the gaming is a great idea. Could it be over a meal, by any chance?

I second the “end with something simple and fun” comment above.

Make sure you have feedback cards or something similar.

#12 Comment By JessHartley On September 9, 2009 @ 11:58 pm

If there aren’t any in your area and you want to include some sort of Q/A session or chat with a professional writer, there’s a great site called SkypeAnAuthor that offers free short Skype sessions with writers through Skype for schools and libraries.



#13 Comment By The Bearded Goose On September 10, 2009 @ 7:49 am

This doesn’t exactly fit what this article, but up here near Akron, OH we have a small(ish) local Con that focuses a lot on RPGs, but also includes other open gaming, as well as comedy music, an artitorium, and other stuff. We also have an exhibit hall for folks to spend their pennies. It’s called Con on the Cob, and can be found on the web at [3]

It’s a great place, a lot of fun, and well worth the small price of admission for 4 days of gaming delight.

#14 Comment By Scott Martin On September 10, 2009 @ 9:44 am

Since you have GMs on hand, it sounds like you’re ready to roll. I agree that having at least some non-D&D games would demonstrate the scope of roleplaying better– and give new people a better shot at encountering something they’ll enjoy.

While it may impact your packing ability, many indie rpgs are better with three or four players. I don’t know if any of your GMs plan on running any of them, but I’d stick to a better play experience than diluting the experience down to get two more people playing.

I’d lean towards lighter RPGs at several tables– and/or stripped down versions of more complex games. A cartoon Risus game might work well, as might PTA.

I’d also consider “PG ratings” appropriate for mixed groups. Suggest that everyone stay away from any R rated content– you never know what someone three tables over will hear. Not every game has to be “kid friendly”, but should be OK in public with kids present.

I like the idea of “end with something simple and fun”– as suggested, a big game of Mafia/Werewolf would be a way for everyone to briefly participate together and “cool down” before heading home.

#15 Comment By BukaHobbit On September 10, 2009 @ 10:05 am

[4] – I made some basic assumptions when I wrote my original post.

1) The purpose of the convention was to introduce the public to RPGs.


2) The familiarity with RPGs of the participants would be minimal.

If these two assumptions are incorrect, some of what I said does not apply.

#16 Comment By quasit On September 10, 2009 @ 10:45 am

1. Make sure there are experienced players on hand at each table whose primary purpose is to help out the new players. I particularly like the idea of overbooking GMs, with those ‘extras’ taking on the role of player helpers if the primary shows up. (Make sure the ‘extras’ know in advance you are doing this.)
2. Encourage everyone to leave their supplemental rule books at home. By that I mean that you should only have the core rules at the table. The thick books are intimidating enough without a new person seeing a crate of books.
3. Bring enough dice to cover everyone. (Even better if they get to keep the dice – see #5.)
4. Do everything you can to make it easy for the new players to get into the game. The simplest thing is to provide double sided tent cards with their character name on it so that everyone can remember their character name. If possible, use game aids and simplified character sheets. (For example, Savage Worlds has a play mat for your dice and has a character sheet that is new player friendly. If you have enough time, maybe you can make something equivalent for the games that are being run.)
5. Make sure that everyone has something to take home with them as a memento of the event. (Like their character sheet.) At a minimum, you should also have information on where people can buy games, where they can go to play, and what they can do to get more information.
6. Consider having a sign-in sheet and sending them a follow on email encouraging them to contact you if they have further questions. Some people might be more comfortable with asking perceived ‘stupid’ questions in private vs. in a public setting. (I would probably send out an electronic copy of the basic info sheet, from item #5, when you send the follow-up email.)

#17 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 10, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

[5] – Fellow Gnome John Arcadian and I are going to give a seminar this year at “Con on the Cob” and I’m looking forward to attending. I’m sure it will be fun given everything that I have heard about it.

#18 Comment By BukaHobbit On September 10, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

I am very jealous of y’all up North. Here in Houston almost all of the cons have closed up shop. I can only think of two that are still going. I am drooling to have some more RPG action here, but it just doesn’t seem likely. So, to answer the question “what do I want from an RPG convention?” The answer is “to be able to actually attend one.

#19 Comment By The Bearded Goose On September 10, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

[6] – Cool! I’ll be sure to look for you. What’s the seminar and when will it be held (day/time)?

[7] – Come on up to Ohio! Pre-reg discount is still on. $35 for all four days is pretty damn cheap, and you don’t have to buy tickets for the other events. It’s all one price, dude. ~$75 for a room, though you should find some friends to bring with you, eh? ๐Ÿ™‚

#20 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 10, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

[8] – Saturday, 12pm to 2pm, Title: Pacing – The Art of Storytelling.

I look forward to meeting you!

#21 Comment By John Arcadian On September 12, 2009 @ 8:29 am

[8] – Hope to see you there! I’m actually waiting for Andy Hopp to shoot back the answers to an email interview I’m doing with him about Con On The Cob. I’ll be posting it next week. I’m actually up near Akron as well, so it’ll be great to meet a local Gnome Stew reader. Small(ish) is how I describe COTC in the article.

[7] – I second. Con On the Cob is great. If you can make it at all, houston is a bit of a drive, it is definitely something to see.